Google's new policy boss will tackle everything from AI anxiety to antitrust
(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc.’s Google announced late last week it tapped General Electric Co. global affairs chief Karan Bhatia to become its next head of policy.
Google wants Bhatia to craft the search giant’s public policy strategy on a wide range of issues including artificial intelligence and job creation. His first focus will be dealing with a regulatory backlash that includes antitrust investigations and new digital-privacy rules.
Bhatia’s position has been vacant since last September, when Caroline Atkinson, a former Obama official, stepped down. Google sought candidates from both major political parties to fill it.
A former deputy U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, Bhatia joins a company with a liberal reputation. Former Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt helped Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential effort, and Google has clashed with the Trump administration over immigration, while conservative lawmakers often criticize the company for bias.
“We’re thrilled to hire someone with Karan’s impressive experience in global policy," Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs and chief legal officer, said in a statement. “He’s a widely respected leader who will work with our teams to advocate for policies that encourage growth and innovation.”
Bhatia will report to Walker, who represented Google at congressional hearings last fall on Russian operatives’ use of online services to try to influence the 2016 presidential election. Susan Molinari, a former Republican member of Congress who has led Google’s U.S. government relations office since 2012, will report to Bhatia.
"This is an incredible opportunity to join such an exciting company in a fast-moving industry," Bhatia said in a statement. "I’m looking forward to contributing across a range of products that people use every day, and to important policy debates.” The hire was reported earlier by Axios.
Bhatia served as General Electric’s president of government affairs and policy, overseeing more than 100 employees. He’s joining Google as the search giant expands from its advertising roots into cloud computing, consumer devices, transportation, health care and even chip design.
While Bhatia will have to juggle an array of domestic policy issues, including privacy and cybersecurity, his largest burden comes in Europe. The EU is expected to rule soon on its antitrust case against Google’s Android mobile operating system, one of three probes against the search giant.
Bhatia is experienced on trade issues that have become newly relevant as President Donald Trump pursues import tariffs. As the U.S.’s second-ranking trade official, Bhatia oversaw negotiations with China over export subsidies and intellectual property rights. He joined GE in 2008. Earlier this year, he testified before Congress that GE supported Trump’s "goal of promoting a level playing field for international trade" but hoped issues with China could “be resolved without resorting to tariffs, by either side.”
The Columbia Law School graduate lobbied for GE on issues including corporate tax reform, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the government panel that reviews overseas investment for national security concerns, according to company disclosures. GE has also faced antitrust scrutiny, including a review of the 2017 merger of its oil-and-gas business with Baker Hughes Inc.
--With assistance from Ben Brody and Richard Clough